•CHARM: Its architecture and layout made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Still, it is San Miguel de Allende’s soul that makes people come back time and time again. Deep in Mexico’s heartland, the town is one of its most popular destinations due to its cultural portfolio. San Miguel constantly tops the list of most desirable places to travel globally. In 2020 Condé Nast Traveler Magazine recognized it as the Best Small City in the World; it has been nominated again this year. Travel + Leisure Magazine placed it second (behind Oaxaca) in its World’s Best Cities ranking. The town is trying to prove that it can still wow visitors with new hotels, restaurants, and experiences.
•RELAUNCH: The pandemic forced San Miguel to rethink its regional aims. “We are not in competition with Mexico’s beaches. We complement other destinations,” Laura Torres-Septién, president of San Miguel de Allende’s Tourism Board, told Travel Security. “At the moment, we are designing programs to promote tourism with nearby places like Guanajuato, Querétaro, and Zacatecas,” she added. Torres-Septién also discussed ambitious plans to create travel corridors from San Miguel to Zihuatanejo, Oaxaca, and Mérida as part of visitors’ multi-city trips in the future. For now, hotels and restaurants operate within their allotted occupancy without problems (60 percent and 30 percent, respectively). The Tourism Board believes a total return to rates of travelers at pre-pandemic levels could happen at the end of 2022 or in 2023. Prospects with investors are good. For example, the Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced the launch this year of a property belonging to its Unbound Collection, a high-end brand devoted to unique experiences in culturally-rich places.
•TINY GEM: In such a small destination (pop. 175,000), travelers enjoy colonial and religious architecture, luxury boutiques, art galleries, posh hotels, fine dining, and magnificent backdrops for weddings. It still manages to retain its allure for a high volume of tourists each year. In 2019, 1.6 million visitors arrived in San Miguel, according to Guanajuato’s Tourism Observatory, 14 percent of which were foreigners (primarily American and Canadian nationals). “Canadian visitors are not coming to San Miguel due to recent restrictions in their country. We expect that the summer will bring travelers from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, escaping from the heat,” Torres-Septién added.
•NATURE: Torres-Septién said that new activities focused on the outdoors make the most of the town’s semi-arid climate. “There are coniferous forests nearby where visitors can enjoy hiking, mounting on horseback, biking (including quads), riding in hot-air balloons. In some places, camping includes breakfast prepared by traditional female cooks.” The surrounding area is wine country. Its terroir allows San Miguel de Allende to boast about seven different vineyards. Most of them are less than half an hour’s drive from town and are worth the day-trip for a wine-tasting, their spas, or an overnight stay in their Instagram-worthy haciendas.
•NEW DEMOGRAPHIC: The town mostly catered to snowbirds or foreign retirees permanently establishing there in the past. “With so many people spending time in front of a computer screen during the pandemic, young people discovered the existence of San Miguel de Allende and its attractions. Tourism in San Miguel is aspirational… More people between the ages of 20 and 30 are coming here and are willing to pay for more luxurious experiences,” Torres-Septién declared. The destination has also worked successfully on being an inclusive destination for all sexual orientations. “The town’s wedding-planning industry and local commerce are conscious and proud of the fact,” Torres-Septién said. The city received an honorable mention at the CSR & Diversity Awards from PRNEWS, a marketing and communication professional group, for the campaign “San Miguel de Allende, Mexico’s Next LGTBQ Destination” created by PR Agency ENroute Communications.
•HEALTH AND SAFETY: With many sights outside town, travelers can feel safe if they take enough precautions. Make San Miguel de Allende your primary destination and prepare your day trips with time. Use official taxis, transport apps, or see if your hotel or hosts can set you up with safe transportation to and from the airport or other stops on your trip. Do not wander into non-tourist areas alone or at night. Since the beginning of the pandemic, local authorities instituted QR codes for tracking visitors’ health and safety. Anyone entering the city must provide proof of hotel and restaurant reservations in the form of QR codes, whether visiting for a few hours or staying overnight.
Events at a larger scale, like weddings, are currently sanctioned but are limited to 200 people, including waiters and staff. COVID19 contagions have fallen in San Miguel de Allende, with only six suspicious cases as of the writing of this column, according to the state’s Health Authority. The Federal Ministry of Health changed Guanajuato’s epidemiological level to low or green (in a four-tier system). Still, local businesses and authorities prefer to set it at yellow or the second level. Health protocols will remain strict for visitors and local citizens, even if already vaccinated, so do not forget to wear your mask. You can ask the Tourism Board questions about questions about activities, safety, and recommendations.
•RESILIENCY: “While coronavirus cases in Cancún rise, so do travel bookings,” says Natalie B. Compton from The Washington Post. The article remarks on how Cancún remains a popular destination for Americans and how local businesses and authorities deal with upticks in cases. With more people getting vaccinated and feeling confident about travel, bookings have soared.
•DESIGN: Mérida goes the chic route. John Newton of Architectural Digest writes about the most recent examples of how the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán blends cosmopolitan and traditional building elements. He calls it as he sees it: “A New Wave of Boutique Hotels Is Establishing Mérida as Mexico’s Latest Hot Spot.”
•LUCHA LIBRE: In “The Good, the Bad & the Exótico,” an article in Texas Highways Magazine, historian and writer Roberto José Andrade Franco goes deep into the symbolism, the icons, and the long history of wrestling on the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso, Texas border. According to him, lucha libre represents a magical clash along with the duality of the borderlands.